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Why Educators Need to Become Members of Their Local Entrepreneurial Community

I just returned from ThincIowa in Des Moines- a two day gathering of entrepreneurs and creatives who learned and connected TED-style.

By day two I was hit with one of those revelations that send a shock through your system - a moment in time when disparate pieces of thoughts, information, and understandings converge. In short, if educators don't nurture and develop a new eco-system to allow new learning environments to arise, we will continue our frustrating (and I fear ultimately fruitless) struggle to create new systems and innovations inside old and worn-out organizational constructs. So, here's 2 initial thoughts:

  1. All great ideas start out as weird. In times of massive change and disruption doing the seemingly obvious and well-refined is likely to make little difference. I'm talking order-of-magnitude change here (10x better than we have now). Steve Case spoke this week about how AOL was an idea so far outside the realm of both conventional wisdom and the evidence of the day (1986) that they were usually branded as crazy and foolish. After all, the wisdom and data pointed to the internet never being mainstream but rather for scientists and geeks - no seriously - this was the belief.
  2. Organic eco-systems, not directed hierarchies, win the future. Brad Feld, (see his cool short video here) a man who is famous in the entrepreneurial world for building eco-systems that spawn amazing entrepreneurial communities, made this clear. If the people who are passionate and "in-the-work" don't lead it, it doesn't live. The "feeders" - superintendents and school boards, the DE, AEA, SAI, ISBA, ISEA, colleges, and formally sanctioned think-tanks and work groups - can't lead. They can help organize, support, and mentor - but they can't own it - the leaders must. Who are the leaders? The teachers, administrators, students, and parents who are directly engaged in rapidly iterating the work and building the new frameworks must lead. Check that - the passionate and the weird.
So what's on my agenda tomorrow? Figuring out how to build the most amazing eco-system allowing innovation and rapid prototyping capable of driving 10x improvement, ultimately led and kept alive by the very members of the community, without formal leadership, membership dues and requirements, or having to figure out how to access the network. In short:
  • Let the leaders, not the feeders lead.
  • Take a long-term view - bureaucratic cycle times in government, school, college, and business - are inappropriately short for innovation. How long? 20 years. (I know, it sucks, but would you rather I lie to you?)
  • Be inclusive - everyone's invited and a healthy eco-system can easily manage the rare "bad actor" who joins for the wrong reasons.
  • Engaging and substantive issues that drive relationships, ideas, and results.
An easy place to start? Join your local entrepreneurial community and start learning - a whole new world will open for you!

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